14 Used Car Buying Tips for The Informed Consumer

14 Used Car Buying Tips for The Informed Consumer

When looking to buy a car it pays, quite literally, to be smart about it. You need to do your research, get your finances in order and go into the purchase with a strong plan – that way you are less likely to be tempted by impulse purchasing and will save yourself money and heartache in the long run.

Whether you are buying a brand new model from a dealer, or looking at second-hand cars from a trade seller, private seller or even an auction, the same principles to being smart about buying will apply. You don’t want to end up paying over the odds for a car which you ultimately can’t afford.

Here are some car buying tips that will help you find a great car at a great price:

Research the car you are thinking about buying

When you have narrowed down your choice of car to particular make and model, make sure you do some research to find out how reliable it is and the types of issues which other owners have had to deal with.

Check out consumer reports, automobile websites and owner’s forums online, so that you can find out up front about any common problems, or issues which other people have had when owning this particular type of car.

If there are trends which people are discussing in terms of potentially costly problems and repairs, then you might need to reconsider your chosen make and model and go back to the drawing board – it’s smart to find this out before you buy a car, rather than after you have brought it home.

Sort out your car finance before your start shopping

Search online for the best car finance or loan option before you head to the dealership as you are far more likely to get a good deal from your bank than from the car showroom. Know and understand how much you can afford and stick to it. Make sure you can cover things like insurance and repairs as well as the car itself, with the finance you are taking out. Shop around for the best deal with the lowest interest rate.

Check out the car’s value online first

Use a car calculator or online trade value tool, to find out exactly what you should be paying for the car you are thinking about – that way you can go armed to a dealer and will be prepared to negotiate on the window price. If you are buying privately there might not be so much room to haggle over price but if you have the trade price to hand then you are in a stronger position.

Opt for a certified used car

If you are planning to buy a second-hand car then look for one that has been certified by a dealership as it will have undergone lots of inspections and checks to achieve the certified status. You might have to pay more for it but at least you will know that it is going to be reliable and not in need of dire repairs as soon as you drive it off the forecourt.

Research your planned dealership first

tips for buying a used car

If you are planning to buy from a dealer, check them out first – look for customer reviews, news stories and business problems and make sure you only go to one that has a good reputation. If you are buying from an independent used car dealer this aspect is even more important as you don’t want to end up paying over the odds or driving away with a car that falls apart a few months later, just as the warranty runs out.

Check out the vehicle’s history before committing

If you spot an advert for a car that you like, take the reg number and run it through an online car history checker before you even consider going to look at it. These sites will tell you if the car has a previous history of accidents, if it has ever been written off and any other problems with it such as outstanding finance. If anything like this flags up, do not buy the car.

Ask for a warranty

If you are buying from a private seller, this might not be an option but in that case check with the owner if the warranty is still valid or if there isn’t one at all. If you are buying from a dealer make sure to ask them to include a warranty with your purchase. You might need to pay a little extra but it should give you peace of mind if anything were to go wrong with the vehicle in the first year.

Ask to see all of the car’s service records

Ask either a private owner or a dealer to show you all of the car’s service and repair records before you commit to buying. This will show you how well it has been looked after and also if it has suffered from any ongoing mechanical problems. Was the car professionally serviced or were there DIY car repairs performed? Make sure the car has been regularly serviced and if someone can’t show you that information, think again about buying it.

Make sure you can afford the car

Check your financial situation thoroughly before you commit to signing any kind of credit deal or finance loan for the car. Look at the rate of interest payments and the time over which you are planning to pay back the loan and make sure it is realistic. You need to factor in other monthly car costs such as fuel, repairs, insurance and car tax on top of your car loan as well.

Get the car checked over by an independent mechanic

Ideally, if you know someone who is a mechanic, take them with you when you look over the car so that they can have a proper look under the bonnet to make sure everything is working as it should be. A reputable dealer or seller should have no problems with this as they have nothing to hide. You will most likely have to pay for this service but it will be worth it to know you are driving away in a good car.

Take the car for a proper test drive

It can be so easy to think oh, it looks fine and the paperwork is okay but the only real way you will know if a car is right for you is by actually driving it so you should always insist on test driving the car. When you are in the car, try out everything to make sure it works including turning the lights on and off, opening the windows, trying out the windscreen wipers – that way you can rest assured that there are no obvious electrical problems with the car. When you drive it, take it out onto different speed roads, including the motorway if you can, to see how it handles for both town driving and higher speed driving. You should really pay attention to how it feels to drive as well as any noises or issues which you might pick up on while out on the road.

Check the insurance costs first

While most people will plan how they are going to pay for a new car, and look forward to the test drive, it is quite common to then look to insure the vehicle and end up with a nasty shock. It’s always worth getting several quotes from car insurance comparison sites before you head to the dealership. You only need the make and model to get quotes and if you have the reg number then you can get one that is much more accurate. That way at least you won’t have any nasty surprises after you have agreed to buy the car.

Work out the most secure way to pay

Particularly if you are buying from a private seller, you need to work out the most secure and easy way to pay the seller; after all, it’s not wise to turn up at a complete stranger’s house with £4,000 in cash in your pocket. When you phone up to book the test drive make sure to find out their expectations in terms of method of payment. Bank transfers are the most secure options for paying someone that you don’t know very well.

Always negotiate on the price

If you are buying a new car from a dealer, or even a used car, it’s always worth haggling with them over the sticker price as they will expect it. If they won’t directly lower the price then ask them to throw in some extras, like a warranty, or free MOT and service for a year if they have a garage attached to the shop. Make sure you negotiate and get the best possible value for your money.

As you can see, buying either a new or used car can be fraught with issues and it’s all too easy to get caught up in the glamour of a brand new car at a dealership but it’s important to be smarter about buying your car. Do your research (be sure to check out research covering the best late model cars), sort your finances, negotiate and only buy when you are ready.


Bryce Newell is an automotive enthusiast who loves to write about the latest news, products, and DIY projects. While Bryce is an amateur in the field, he is passionate about cars and has been since he spent weekends in the garage helping his dad rebuild a 68 Dodge Charger as a kid.

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